He was a masterly poet, a sordid masturbator and, in his lonesome latter years, a misanthropic old sot whose head resembled “an egg sculpted in lard, with goggles on” (this is his description of himself).
Having avoided marriage, initially from a sense of artistic sacrifice, then, apparently, out of sheer emotional parsimony, he would spend solitary nights in his suburban home in (to him) faraway, fishy-smelling Hull, listen to jazz records, watch the darts and drink himself numb.
Larkin very much favoured the G&T…
When I drop four cubes of ice
Chimingly in a glass, and add
Three goes of gin, a lemon slice,
And let a ten-ounce tonic void
In foaming gulps until it smothers
Everything else up to the edge…
…and as an older man would start drinking it as soon as returned home from his job of running Hull University Library.
He gave up on his friends, including his once-dearest, Kingsley Amis, and increasingly looked to drink to make the loneliness bearable.
Towards the end of his life, while dying of throat cancer, he subsisted on Complan and cheap red wine, though he could have easily afforded a decent bottle.
It’s quite possible that, for the man who said “Deprivation is for me what daffodils were for Wordsworth”, these hardships were a perverse comfort.
What a shit and a miser. But, as the poet Don Paterson says in an essay on Larkin entitled Life and Work: “A man who knew so little inner peace should be forgiven anything.”
He may well have been a shit and a miser, a misogynist and racist whose self-repression slowly but surely vitiated his soul – but his poems, his fine-tuned, unimprovably humane poems, more often than not speaking to the insomniac alone and anxious as the light of a new and awful day bleeds over the curtains, or the disappointed romantic perennially frustrated by the banality of the everyday, to these I raise a silent toast, with my own glass of Bojo or Shabbily or, who knows, maybe one day, Complan.
That slows each impulse down to indecision.
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without
People or drink. Courage is no good:
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.